WESTERLY — Fitness was always somewhat of a struggle for Milly Morissette, who grew up as an asthmatic. To compete in a road race, or even go for a leisurely jog, seemed out of the question.
Now, with dozens of races under her belt, this Westerly resident is captaining a local team for a race to raise money for the American Lung Association.
“Team BAlieve” already has seven participants, including Morissette and her husband, Ray, for the 2014 Fight for Air Climb in Providence. The 348-step vertical race requires every climber on a team to raise at least $100. Morissette is aiming to get at least 10 climbers, or $1,000, to donate to the lung association.
“It makes me so happy that I get to help someone else in my position with something I have suffered from,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be surrounded by good people supporting me in this.”
Morissette has also teamed up with the association’s Facebook page for the Providence climb, and is offering advice through a once-a-week post for the 16 weeks leading up to the event. The “Training Tip Tuesday” posts began on Nov. 5, with a tip she received from Paul Cornelius, of the Westerly Fire Department, on the importance of practicing.
Her last training tip before the event, scheduled for Feb. 18, will come from Heather Abbott, of Newport, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Morissette said the race is meaningful because of the cause it supports. “Asthma has held me back, physically and mentally, in my past,” she said. “It’s really a lot in my mind, what held me back.”
Morissette’s doubts about her racing abilities have long vanished; now, the mother of two is a certified personal trainer, and is thinking about getting certified in nutrition as well.
Her motivation to start racing came as a result of an initial goal to lose weight and become an example of healthy living for her two boys, ages 5 and 3.
“I knew I was not fit,” she said. “I wanted to become a good role model for my children, and along the way, I realized it was not only for them, but for myself, too.”
A few years ago, she embraced a healthy lifestyle full-on, going from a size 14 to a size 0 in preparation for participating in a Ms. Bikini New England fitness competition.
Her certification as a personal trainer, in turn, made her decide to start racing. “I thought I couldn’t be as good of a personal trainer if I’d never done a race before,” she said.
So Morissette hit the treadmill at the Ocean Community YMCA, and by 2013 was running a full circuit of races, starting with 5Ks and working up to half marathons and two sprint triathlons.
“It’s really more of a state of mind,” she said of her racing. “I’m not a fast person. I’m just getting across the finish line. I think I, and other people, need to realize that there’s no judge standing at the end of the finish line to yell at you about not running under an 8-minute mile.”
Several of her teammates for the Fight for Air Climb are fellow racers she met once she began participating in local running events, including Pawcatuck resident Melanie DiAmanti, who has been running races for 18 years.
Both DiAmanti and another team member, Amanda Murphy, a teacher at Westerly High School, described Milly’s story as inspiring.
DiAmanti and Morissette first met at a 5K for the Pawcatuck Lions Club in the spring, and since then they have raced together in several other events, including a sprint triathlon in Smithfield and the Surftown Half Marathon at Misquamicut Beach.
Morissette described the Misquamicut race as both her best and her worst race. After injuring herself during the race, Morissette said she finished with her slowest time ever. “I went home and cried,” she said.
However, Morissette soon realized that the race also came with several positive memories, including her two sons running with her across the finish line.
“It was my last race of the year, and I realized I had accomplished all my goals,” she said. “I’m going to remember that race, definitely.”
The vertical race next February will be at the Providence Omni Hotel. Murphy, who participated in the race several years ago on a former student’s team, described the event as “a whole new cardiovascular effect.”
“It’s a completely different effect on the body than you would ever expect,” she said. “It’s kind of tough to train for.”
Morissette said she has been practicing with strength exercises and repeated stair climbing.
She has also started a website that provides information about the climb and ways to donate, as well as a personal blog and a recipe of the month.
Morissette said she bought the domain name for the website, www.balieve.com, two years ago. The term “BAlieve” is based on her husband’s New England accent.
Morissette, a native of New Jersey, recalled that when she first started down her weight loss and health journey, her husband offered his support by telling her, “I BAlieve you can do it.”
For more information on Team BAlieve, to join the team or to make a donation, visit www.balieve.com. A fundraiser at Mel’s Downtown Creamery for the team is scheduled for Jan. 21 from 6 to 9 p.m. Information on the climb, plus Morissette’s weekly training tips, is available at www.facebook.com/ProvidenceClimb.